How to Accelerate the Software Selection Process

When embarking on a software selection evaluation and selection process for your digital transformation, you don't need to over complicate it, you don't need to reinvent the wheel and you don't need to get caught in analysis paralysis. But what are the ways that we can avoid some of these things so that we can actually fast track our evaluation process? 

One of the pitfalls we see with organizations going through a software evaluation process is that they get caught up in analysis paralysis. They can't get to a decision, they don't feel comfortable with the decision and they end up spending a lot of time and money on a selection process when they could be spending more of that time and money on the actual implementation. However, it doesn't need to be this way, we can actually be very thoughtful and deliberate and effective in our selection process without overthinking it, without taking too much time and doing so in ways that allow us to really fast track the evaluation process so that we can invest more time and money and effort in the actual implementation itself.

Fast Track Your Software Selection

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The first step to fast tracking your software selection evaluation and selection process is to make sure that you have an unbiased process and tool set to help you through that process. Too often organizations reach out to consulting firms or system integrators that are biased, that are there to sell you a certain type of software or they're there to sell you a type of service that focuses on a certain type of software. That results in a process that's leading with technology, it's a process that's designed to show you how effective a certain predefined solution is, rather than looking at all of your options and finding the best solution for your business. The reason that this slows down your software selection process is because it's almost as though the organizations that go through the process tend to pick up on the fact that it's a biased process and they lack confidence in that process. It's really important that you focus on leveraging outside help and technology agnostic help. Organizations like Third Stage Consulting, that are completely technology agnostic and independent, that can help you find the right technology, make the most sense for your organization. You also need to have confidence in your consulting partner and the process and the tool sets that you're using to help you through the evaluation process. You need consultants who are not biased and they're not designed to lead you in a certain direction that benefits them and this unbiased process also needs to leverage tools that are unbiased.

Prioritize Business Requirements 

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The next thing you can do to speed up your selection process is to prioritize your business requirements. If you start with a clean slate and go through any sort of business requirements exercise, there's a good chance you're going to end up with hundreds, maybe even thousands of different potential business requirements. These business requirements are all vital, they're all something that you should document and make sure you capture so that when you get to the implementation stage, you can have that requirements traceability exercise to ensure that you're actually adhering to and enabling those business requirements. When it comes time to select specific technology solutions, not all of those business requirements are going to be relevant to the actual decision, so, many of those business requirements that you might define, are going to be things that are either standard functionality in just about any technology or they're just not critical to the success of your organization. In other words, there's certain business processes within every organization that are not competitive differentiators, so, rather than focusing on things that are lower priority or things that aren't really going to differentiate the different systems in the marketplace, it's more important to focus on those things that are really important to you. A good rule of thumb is to look at the top 20 of your business requirements, the 20 that are the most important because they differentiate you, it's your secret sauce, it's how you beat the competition, it's what makes you as an organization and therefore the analysis of different solutions are being done in the context of those higher priority business requirements. 

This also has the added benefit of ensuring that you don't over analyze too many business requirements. If you start with say, 2000 business requirements, you're probably going to find a lot of those requirements aren't met by the technologies that are out there in the marketplace and it creates a lot of doubt and confusion and uncertainty around your chosen technology. By focusing on the top 20 of those higher priority requirements, you're going to speed up your process and you're also going to make sure you're more likely to select the right software for your organization.

Use Quantitative  & Objective Data

The next thing that's important to do as part of a fast track software evaluation process is to make sure you're using quantitative and objective data to assess different software solutions in the marketplace. What we mean by objective and quantitative data is data that isn't just a yes or no sort of an answer. For example, a lot of organizations, when they send out an RFI or an RFP request for proposal or a request for information to software vendors or system integrators, they provide their business requirements and then they ask a yes/no question. In other words, can your software do “A, B & C” but more often than not it's not a simple yes or no answer. It's a matter of how well the software can do whatever it is you need it to do. The software sales rep will tell you “yes our software can do that” but what they don't tell you oftentimes is “well it doesn't do it well” so we need to know quantitatively, how does that software rate and compare to other software against that one single business requirement. That's where the quantitative and objective data comes in. 

At Third Stage Consulting, we have a proprietary database that we use that tracks close to a thousand different enterprise technologies against 30,000 plus different business requirements. It doesn't just track whether or not the software can do these 30,000 things but it tracks how well they can do it. It does this on a scale of one to five, one software vendor might have a 4.5 and another one might have a 3.5 in an RFP response. They would both say “yes our software can do it” but our data shows that one software vendor clearly does that same business requirement better than the other. So using this quantitative and objective data is very important to help get to a decision quickly and it also has the added benefit of ensuring that you're not even really doing any sort of deep dive into systems that just aren't a good fit for your organization. When you leverage this quantitative data, you're going to shortlist the right solutions a lot faster and not have to go evaluate dozens or more different types of systems that we're never going to be a good fit for your organization.

Involve Stakeholders In Software Selection Decision Making

Another key strategy to speed up your evaluation process is to involve key stakeholders in the decision process. Not to say that this needs to be a unanimous decision from all parties involved but you do want to make sure that you get inputs from different stakeholders and different work groups and locations within your organization. On the surface, it may sound like this is actually going to slow things down because now you've got more cooks in the kitchen, you've got more input, you've created a higher likelihood that you're not all going to agree on what the right solution is but what it does, is when you do arrive at a decision as a team, it speeds things up to where you have more buy-in and more support and there's less resistance to the decision even if not everyone agrees with the decision. At least you have heard their voices, you got their opinions and you know what their concerns are if they don't think

that the system might be a good fit in all parts of the business. You have clarity and you're going in with your eyes wide open, so, by involving key stakeholders early on, you're actually going to speed up the evaluation process and also speed up the implementation as well because now you've started to build that buy-in and support for the overall transformation.

Define a Realistic Software Selection Implementation Plan

The next thing you need to do to ensure that you speed up your evaluation process is to define a realistic implementation plan, budget resource plan and set of risks with mitigation strategies. The reason this is so important to the decision process is because you don't want to have to make a decision with either unrealistic expectations or worse yet, without a clear understanding of what the implementation timeline and budget is going to be. Having a clear and unbiased view of how long the implementation is going to take, how much it's going to cost, what the risks are, how to mitigate the risks we're creating, is key. We're also drawing a line in the sand for the implementation that's based on reality, it's not based on a sales rep's over-optimistic view of how quickly they think they could, in theory, implement technology. This is key to understanding what your actual timeline and budget will look like before initiating change.

A word of warning here, is when you get proposals from sales reps, whether it's from the software vendor or the system integrator or both and the odds are extremely high close to 100 percent that the software vendor sales reps or the system integrator is going to underestimate the amount of time and effort and cost it takes to implement their solution. For this reason you want to make sure that you evaluate the implementation plan and budget through the lens of reality rather than an optimistic sales reps view of reality so these are some of the ways that we found to speed up the evaluation process and also ensure that you have an effective software evaluation process. 

If you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, we would love to give you some insights. Feel free to reach out to me here with any questions you may have ryan.glisan@thirdstage-consulting.com

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices. https://www.thirdstage-consulting.com/reports/2023-digital-transformation-r

Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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